It is quite difficult to single out the best products given that there are so many great products on demo at RMAF every year. So I’m going to cheat a little and mention a couple for each category but settle on one.
New Product Introduction: Kii Three Speaker System
This is frankly impossible, especially since I focused on a few atrium floors per PTA management. Certainly the Alta Audio Rhea speakers are worthy for an award. Great sound and a beautiful finish for real world money.
At the upper end of the price scale but still fairly priced for the quality were Bruno Putzey’s Kii Three speakers. It seems size doesn’t matter anymore when it comes to speakers. Bruno’s been one of the ace designers in audio for a while in digital and other areas but these speakers really knocked me out. Real innovation with superb musicality.
Affordable Product: Audioengine HD6
So much great stuff this year. The always-amazing Andrew Jones had the much raved about ELAC Debut line, which I give brownie points to for having app-controlled subwoofers and just spectacular sound for the dollar. My friend Darren Censullo showed the new iFi iCan headphone amplifier which was great sounding and beautiful. I can only imagine what the new iDSD Pro dac will sound like.
But I must say that Audioengine’s HD6 impressed me the most for being such a beautiful product for the dollar at $749 a pair. David Solomon was in the room tweaking the placement when I got there and they sounded excellent after the changes. Nice finish and great value in terms of sound and the fact they are powered. Every year Audioengine shows up to RMAF and impresses me. I’m glad I get to finally share my enthusiasm for them here.
Most Coveted: Constellation Audio
I’ve been considering a Constellation Inspiration ($10k) amplifier for some time for my Maggies. The combination with Raidho speakers has proven wonderful to my ears at several events. This year was no different. It reaches that rare combination of fine resolution which the Raidho speakers can do in spades (possibly better than anyone with their ribbon technology) while also remaining supremely musical. The Constellation designs just give me the feeling that they are letting everything through the musical path. I’m sensitive to midrange quality and I heavily favor tube amps historically, but Constellation just seems to get this exactly right. I also like my highs open and extended. Ditto again on this. Bass? Well of course no problems there. High prices? Sure, but reference sound and build quality make for a solid investment. This magical amplifier may be in my future.
Best Room: Vinnie Rossi LIO and Harbeth 40.2 Speakers
This was another tough choice as I liked the Von Schweikert VR55 speakers so much. Albert has done perhaps his best work there. It would be a mistake not to audition those speakers if they are in your price range. They are world-class.
But at the end of the day I’m still dreaming about the sound of the LIO/Harbeth system. Is there a better pair speaker for midrange than the Harbeth? I doubt it. Paired with the LIO the sound was spectacular. Seemless top to bottom. Open, clear…but with great bass and dynamics. The LIO is doing all the right things and seems like solid gear. Yet another visit to Denver demonstrates that you don’t have to spend crazy money to get reference sound.
Best Live Performance at the Show: Vincent Boulanger, cellist.
Wow, what a great idea for David Cope to use an in-room performance to highlight his excellent Audio Note gear! Vincent’s playing was sublime. A fresh, real-time reminder of the power of acoustic music. The Audio Note gear was amazing. One can now say without irony that it “sounded like a real musician playing in a real space.”
A few things to keep an eye on if I may. The new Stax SL700 headphones are a new high value entry that I thought was spectacular. I really need these. The new Cardas A8 earphones look enticing. George promises better sound, less weight, and lower price versus his current earspeakers. The Chord 2Qute remains enticing to me, FPGA sound quality for reasonable money. Audioquest is on a roll lately and Garth’s new power products look very interesting.
The real best of show was the people, however. It is always great to be surrounded by people who share your love of the hobby and great music. There are a wide variety of characters in audio and often the backstories to the gear are an entertaining as the gear itself. The highlight was a dinner with Brannon Mason from Noble Audio. Brannon and his team are “good people” as we say in the South. Scot Hull and John Darko joined and proved equally fun.
I’m already looking forward to RMAF next year.